Friday, October 10, 2008

What Ray did next

You'll have read, in the footnote to Wednesday's column, that the controversial Chessville article Densa and Densa, containing a passage mysteriously identical to one previously written by Edward Winter, has now been amended. The passage has been excised.

I had previously written to Chessville about the piece and they were kind enough, once the article had been rewritten, to write back:
Mr. Keene has rewritten his Densa article for Chessville. Hopefully it now avoids the issue which you brought to my attention.
Decent of them to say so: but perhaps it is not up to me to decide. In so far as my opinion is worth anything, I am not sure that it does entirely avoid the issue: and I wonder whether there are not other issues, as well.

One issue is the piece itself. It's a classic Ray piece, which is not to say that it is classic in any other sense than that. Its sole function is to puff Ray and his cronies, in this instance the crony being longstanding Penguin-friend Tony Buzan, whose "note-taking technique" is shoehorned into the piece - or rather, the piece is shoehorned into an advert for his chum. Thoughtfully, though, Ray does find time to mention some chess, especially the Staunton Memorial tournament (prop. Ray Keene).

Now
this sort of thing is tat. But Ray is the Tatmaster, and this is how he has worked for three decades now: everybody knows how he operates and you either accept it or you do not. Presumably, Chessville accept it. In doing so, they also accept Ray's other trademarks, which include the eyebrow-raising explanation when a charge of copying is laid against him (and the absence of any subsequent apology). It's a shoddy approach and one which, to my mind, makes fools of people who go along with it.

Shoddy work is a characteristic of the Tatmaster - and this quick fix, too, is shoddy in its way. Originally, you will recall, Ray wrote this:
"The world's biggest-selling book is the boast on the back cover of "Guinness World Records 2007".
This has now become:
In the edition I checked
which does not specify which edition he actually looked at, although he did, previously, say 2007 in the passage quoted above.

However, we have confirmation already as to which one it was, because he wrote himself in his own pages on chessgames.com, in an entry made on 29 September 2008:
i wrote about the 2007 issue of guinness because i jotted down the notes in feb 2007- and never got round to using them since then
So it was the 2007 edition that he looked at, by his own account.

Or was it? Ray also writes:
Indeed, the total space devoted to mental world records in the entire book is less than that given to the following - now infamous - feat by Kathryn Ratcliffe (UK), who:

"...on 25 October 2003 and with a tally of 138, broke her OWN record for the most Smarties eaten in three minutes using chopsticks"
.
Strangely enough, though, the Guinness Book for 2007 doesn't say this. It records Ms Ratcliffe's record as 170, which feat was performed on 27 November 2004. Ms Ratcliffe did, however, previously set the record of 138, which mark was indeed achieved on 25 October 2003 and is recorded in the Guinness Book for 2005. Not 2007 at all.

So was Ray mistaking himself all the time and in fact it was the 2005 edition he consulted? Presumably. Curiously, that 2005 edition was discussed in Edward Winter's Chess Notes at #3493 - a piece reproduced this year on Chessbase, a site one imagines might be viewed even by somebody who avoids looking at Chess Notes.

More curiously still, the Winter piece includes the phrase
Kathryn Ratcliffe (UK), who, on 25 October 2003 and with a tally of 138, broke her own record ‘for the most Smarties eaten in three minutes using chopsticks’
while Keene's Chessville piece, even in its revised state, includes the passage (already quoted above):
Kathryn Ratcliffe (UK), who:

"...on 25 October 2003 and with a tally of 138, broke her OWN record for the most Smarties eaten in three minutes using chopsticks"
.
Now isn't that bad luck. Ray revises a piece to excise an unacknowledged quote from Edward Winter - and when the piece is republished, revised, there's still an unacknowledged quote from Edward Winter there.

Meanwhile, while it is possible to revise pieces published online - however inadequately one may do so - it is harder with printed material and we are still struggling to account for the enormous similarity of the original Densa and Densa to the article Dumbing-down Time previously published in the Spectator: which piece, of course, still includes the original passage now eliminated from the Chessville article.

Serial recycling of his own work is an old habit of the Tatmaster. But in normal circumstances it's a bad habit to reproduce your own work without acknowledgement that it has appeared somewhere else before. A bad habit on the part of the writer and a bad habit on the part of the publisher. Now conceivably, both Chessville and the Spectator are happy that the former publication reused a piece that appeared in the latter, without mentioning the periodical in which it first appeared. An unusual arrangement, but such things may happen.

One wonders, though, whether the Spectator are similarly happy that they printed a piece in which a substantial chunk was copied, however inadvertently, from a prior publication. They shouldn't be. Still, it's possible they don't realise that they did this. Perhaps someone should tell them.

7 comments:

hylen said...

Great stuff. Thank you.

hylen

Anonymous said...

Look, it's your website so you post what you want, but this casual visitor is finding the constant attacks on Ray Keene somewhat tedious. So (allegedly) his "work" isn't always original - I expect we've all grasped that one by now, shall we move on... perhaps to another British GM, who recycles his national daily newspaper columns? Or perhaps these attacks are pointless?

Alu Chin

ejh said...

the constant attacks on Ray Keene somewhat tedious

We've written about Ray five times, I think. In a two-year period.

I expect we've all grasped that one by now, shall we move on

No, I don't think we shall, not until we are good and ready.

The point is that this sort of thing isn't just an embarrassment to British chess, but it's a very longstanding embarrasssment. And the reason it's so longstanding is that it has always been allowed to continue - perhaps because of people crying "tedious" and "shall we move on"?

perhaps to another British GM, who recycles his national daily newspaper columns

Please email details to the blog address, we'll be glad to hear them.

Anonymous said...

Ah, those selective stats: five articles in two years, four in a month, it's all the same...

Still, if you want to turn a great website into a vendetta, hey, why should I care?

Alu Chin

ejh said...

Well, similarly I could say: you've only posted two comments on this blog to my knowledge, but both on the same thread! Is that, ah, a "vendetta"?

But if that's the best argument that you can produce, then please, be my guest.

Campion said...

*This* casual visitor is finding the "constant attacks" on Ray Keene a rare source of amusement in these dull/scary times. But if the second commenter wants an ulterior motive: I've had a long-standing prejudice/snobbery against Buzan's Buzzword Bonanza etc.

The fact that authors can say "well, we're not as bad as X when it comes to recycling/recapitulation of earlier material" is not in my view grounds for tolerating X as a known evil.

(grump over for now)

Jonathan B said...

Look, it's your website so you post what you want,

Indeed it is and indeed we will


but this casual visitor is finding the constant attacks on Ray Keene somewhat tedious


the casual visitor is welcome not to come back if s/he so chooses.